A Healing Garden Should be Healthy for the Planet, Too

Arugula grown from Seeds of Change organic seeds; swiss chard and other herbs and vegetables bought as seedlings from a nearby certified organic farm.

This may be forehead-smackingly obvious to many of you, but I’m going to say it anyway:
In my opinion, a healing garden should be good for the earth as well as for us. What does this mean, exactly? Here are some thoughts, and I welcome additional suggestions from my readers:

1. Go organic, or at the very least, don’t go toxic with your “raw materials” (soil, compost, plant material) and how you treat them (e.g., companion planting or permaculture instead of ChemLawn). It’s better for us, it’s better for the birds and other wonderful creatures we’re trying to attract, and it’s better for the earth. There are lots of good websites, companies, and organizations out there with information about acquiring and growing plants without the use of pesticides and herbicides. Sometimes it takes a little more work, or you might have to deal with some unsightly holes in your leaves. I wasn’t wild about the look of netting on my strawberries last year, but I sure was wild about the taste and knowing that they were 100% chemical free.

And is my own garden 100% organic? Honestly, no. That Hamemelis I mentioned on 1/21/08? I seriously doubt that it was born and raised without chemicals. But now that it’s in my garden, it’s in a pesticide-free zone.
2. Save water. Especially in drought-riddled areas like New Mexico, where I lived before I moved to soggy New York, it’s just downright irresponsible to plant things that need a lot of water to grow. Or to install a fountain that doesn’t recycle its water or that sprays huge jets that evaporate before the water lands back in the pond. And even in New York, I strive to plant things that, once they’re established, can manage fine on their own.
3. Reduce waste. Create a brush pile and/or compost pile for leaves and other garden debris and for kitchen scraps (no meat, nothing cooked). Brush piles make excellent wildlife habitats; compost piles make the best plant food around, and it’s free! And you’re keeping that much more waste out of the landfill, thus reducing your overall “footprint.” Everybody wins.
For hardscaping and planters, use natural materials such as stone and wood that won’t fall apart after a couple of years, or that can be recycled.
4. Use materials that don’t negatively impact the earth. Those pvc picket fences may be cheap and cute, but they are toxic to make, they can’t be recycled, and they can cause serious problems if they catch on fire, creating carcinogens that get into our groundwater supply. Imagine the ironies of a healing garden for cancer patients surrounded by a pvc fence. The mind boggles.

And again, am I the perfect “zero carbon footprint” example? No. The stone and soil used to create my raised vegetable garden, in the photo above, did not come from the site, they were trucked in from somewhere else. As with almost anything in life, designing a healing garden is about balance. Maybe you’re a small non-profit that relies on donations from a big box nursery for your plant material; maybe the house you bought already had a pvc fence when you moved in; maybe you don’t have the space or the time for a compost pile. We all have to make choices about what we can and can’t do. The important thing, in my opinion, is to at the very least be aware of your impact on the earth, and to strive to reduce your negative impact and to increase your positive impact in whatever ways are possible and feasible to you.

EDRA/Places Awards 2008 Call for Submissions – Deadline February 7

Places: Forum of Design for the Public Realm and the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) announce the eleventh annual EDRA/Places Awards for Place Design, Planning and Research — this year in cooperation with Metropolis Magazine. Unique in the ever-expanding universe of award programs, their concern is for good places and how people inhabit them.

“We seek entries of exemplary work, inviting participation from a range of design and research disciplines, recognizing projects whose significance extends beyond any one profession or field. Projects should emphasize a link between research and practice, demonstrating how an understanding of human interaction with place can inspire design.”

Click HERE for a pdf of the Call for Entries form.

Remembering Jean Kavanagh

Jean Stephans Kavanagh died peacefully on Friday, January 25, 2008 after a brief battle with cancer.

The first time I met Jean was at a workshop on healing gardens in Portland, OR. She was vivacious, funny, smart as a whip, and had a wonderful Molly Ivins-esque no-nonsense approach. She has been an important leader in the field of landscape architecture and research-based design, and she will be missed.

From the Texas ASLA website:

Jean Stephans Kavanagh

Of Lubbock, TX, a native of Forest Hills, age 61, died peacefully after a
brief battle with cancer on Friday, January 25, 2008. Jean was the daughter
of the late Rita P.(Nehrig) and John G. Stephans. Beloved mother of Douglas
Camann. Sister of Donna Dowd, Carol Appleby, John Stephans, Rita Behr, Greg
Stephans, Mark Stephans, Dan Stephans, Chris Miles, and Noreen Roy. Also
survived by 23 Nieces and Nephews, and 7 Grand-Nieces and Nephews. Born in
Pittsburgh, PA , Jean studied Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University,
Pittsburgh PA from 1964 – 1969. She received her Bachelor of Science in
Landscape Architecture in 1976 and her Masters of Landscape Architecture in
1982 from Cornell University, Ithaca NY. Jean was an Associate Professor in
the Department of Landscape Architecture at Texas Tech University, Lubbock
TX. She joined the department in 1990 after teaching Landscape Architecture
at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (’82-’89). She was active in
community and professional outreach and has served as an officer of the
Texas Chapter of the ASLA, the Horticultural Therapy Association, Sigma
Lambda Alpha National Landscape Architecture Honor Society, and the Council
of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA). Jean pioneered in the study
of the design of therapeutic landscapes in the United States. In 1995, she
was recognized as one of the top women in Landscape Architecture. During the
Centennial ASLA Meeting in Boston, MA, in 1999, she was inducted into the
College of Fellows of the ASLA in recognition of her efforts in this area of
research. Her teaching awards include the Tau Sigma Delta Outstanding
Faculty of the Year in 1996, CELA’s Award of Distinction in Teaching,
Research and Public Service in 1995 and a shared CELA Special Award for
Design Methods in 1982. In 2001, she chaired the national faculty awards
programs for both Sigma Lambda Alpha and CELA. Friends welcome Wednesday 7 –
9 pm and Thursday 2-4 & 7-9 pm at PATRICK T. LANIGAN FUNERAL HOME, 700
Linden Avenue, East Pittsburgh, PA 412- 824-8800. Mass of Christian Burial
in St. Maurice Church, Forest Hills, on Friday at 10am. The family requests
Memorial Donations be made to Texas Tech Foundation (Jean Stephans Kavanagh
Endowment), P.O. Box 42123, Lubbock TX 79409 or, Maryknoll Missionaries, in
care of Robert V. Nehrig, P.O. Box 304, Maryknoll, NY 10545.

Grassroots Healing Garden: The Serenity Garden at Transitional Housing, Inc.

Before construction, on left, and after on right

Thanks to Robert Rensel for providing the images and text for this blog entry. For more images, go to the THI website:

Transitional Housing, Inc. is a 62-unit facility in Cleveland, OH that provides temporary housing for women who have been homeless. Its mission is to provide a safe living environment while the women can work on and overcome the challenges that led to their homelessness.

The Men’s Garden Club of Greater Cleveland has about 70 members that share an interest in gardening. The Club provides scholarships to students entering a horticulture-related field and undertakes volunteer projects to beautify and improve our community.

The Serenity Garden

After observing that Transitional Housing’s units had no air conditioning and just asphalt for a back yard (see image below), the Men’s Garden Club proposed the installation of a therapeutic green space early in 2006. The boards of both organizations approved the project and funding was secured from the 1525 Foundation and Neighborhood Connections. Garden Club members worked with the women residents to develop a garden design that would meet their needs. The green industry was very receptive to lending a helping hand. Kurtz Brothers provided substantial in-kind support by removing a section of asphalt and providing soil, pavers and retaining wall blocks. Klyn and Willoway Nurseries provided preferential pricing on plant material and the Plastic Lumber Company discounted the benches made out of recycled material.

The design was finished in the spring of 2006. Plants were selected based on their soothing fragrances, appearances and textures. The sound of trickling water in the fountain adds to the serenity of the garden. The layout preserves a beautiful view of the city skyline. The hardscape was completed in the fall and the woody plants went in before year end. Perennials were planted in April and planter boxes and annuals are slated for June. A mural for the wall behind the fountain is being designed by the residents.

This is a terrific collaboration between a local garden club and a social service agency. Garden club members have an on-going commitment to work with the residents to maintain the garden. Women who are working to rebuild their lives now have a respite area in which they can find peace and healing. The quote going up on the dedication plaque says it all:

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.
~Dorothy Frances Gurney

The Virginia Thurston Healing Garden

The Virginia Thurston Healing Garden is an educational non-profit, providing a community of support for women with breast cancer. The center is located on 8 acres of beautiful gardens, developed over 30 years by Virginia Thurston, a significant gardener and long-time leader in the Massachusetts Garden Club Federation. They are currently undergoing an expansion to their physical space and looking forward to the new center opening in June 2008. They are established leaders in complementary medicine and psychosocial support for cancer care. Please visit their website, for more information and images.

ASLA Therapeutic Landscapes Research Initiative

From LAND Online, the Landscape Architecture News Digest:

Healthcare and Therapeutic Design PPN Secures First PPN Initiatives Program Grant for Therapeutic Landscapes Research Initiative

“The Healthcare and Therapeutic Design Professional Practice Network (PPN) is the first recipient of a grant through ASLA’s PPN Initiatives Program. The Initiatives Program provides PPNs with financial resources for special projects that advance or promote the practice areas that the network represents. This initial grant is funding the Therapeutic Landscapes Research Initiative (TLRI). The TLRI, which began in spring 2007, is a compendium of current research on the health benefits of therapeutic landscapes.

The TLRI sprang out of a discussion at the 2006 ASLA annual meeting during the Healthcare and Therapeutic Design PPN session. Members noted that there has been much more research in the past few years in the area of health care and therapeutic design, and practitioners want to stay abreast of that new information. However, it is difficult to keep up with the current research because new studies are published in a wide variety of sources. As a result of that discussion, PPN members applied for a PPN Initiatives Program grant. Funding began May 1, 2007, and will last one year.

The grant pays stipends for one to two students from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, to comb through new research from academic libraries for current articles of interest to health care and therapeutic garden design professionals. Summaries of this research are made available on the Healthcare and Therapeutic Design PPN website. An interactive blog is also under development to allow members to engage in dialogue about and continue refinement and application of this research.

For more information about the TLRI, contact Susan Erickson, Iowa State University, at 515-294-1790 or To access the TLRI database, visit the Healthcare and Therapeutic Design TLRI website at”

This is an excellent new resource, particularly for designers who need a way to distill the growing body of literature on research-based healthcare design.

Backyard Sanctuary

It’s 23 degrees Fahrenheit outside, the warmest it’s been all day, and this is the view from my office window here in Beacon, NY. Now, to some of you this may look rather bleak – the last windswept vestiges of last week’s snowfall, the winter sunlight just barely lighting up that north side of the garden, and a puny tree with no leaves, only bare branches. Well, let me tell you, that tree is a witch hazel,
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena,’ and every time I look at her, a smile creeps across my face. You see, “Jelena,” as I like to call her, holds great promise: The promise of spring, and soon. I learned to appreciate witch hazels in Providence, RI on wintry walks to and from work, and have wanted one (at least one!) in my own garden ever since. I knew when I planted Jelena that long before anything else was even thinking about emerging from dormancy, this intrepid tree would begin to bloom, pushing forth bright red (or yellow or orange, depending on the variety) fingers of delightfully scented blossoms from soft, velvety buds. And today I checked and sure enough, inside of those tight fists of buds are bright red spots promising blossoms in a month, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. Spring in February/March in New York, not too shabby. My camera’s “macro” feature is nonexistent, but you get the idea:

Your Healing Garden

There are so many ways to make your outdoor space–be it hundreds of acres, a city lot, a fire escape, or a window box–into more than just a place for the occasional backyard party or weeding/raking session. Being in and connected with nature has myriad benefits, with stress reduction being at the top of the list. This is a new series on this new blog, aimed more at the home gardener than the academic or the seasoned designer, with the goal of inspiring people to start treating their immediate outdoor environments as places that can facilitate health and well-being. I’ll touch on important design considerations; reasons for creating a backyard sanctuary; my favorite books, articles, and links on the subject; as well as examples and anecdotes.
More again soon.

Excellent Resource: SULIS

SULIS – Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series
University of Minnesota

This information-packed page on Healing Gardens includes a nice definition of Healing Gardens (see below); notes on general design and design for specific uses; and many useful links and references.

“What is a healing garden?

Based on research by Ulrich and others, it could be argued that any garden is a healing garden. However, for the purposes of this article, we refer to Eckerling’s definition of a healing garden: “a garden in a healing setting designed to make people feel better” (Eckerling, 1996). The goal of a healing garden is to make people feel safe, less stressed, more comfortable and even invigorated.”

Image, courtesy of SULIS website: Paved walkways of the Sensory Garden located at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (Photo courtesy of the UMN Landscape Arboretum)

Wanted: Information on Gardens for Grieving Children or Children’s Bereavement Centers

A senior landscape architecture major at the University of Rhode Island is looking for information on therapeutic gardens for grieving children and/or children’s bereavement centers for her final thesis. Please post to this blog if you have any information. Thank you!

Hope in Bloom – Gardens for Breast Cancer Patients

Hope in Bloom is a 501(c)(3) charity that provides gardens free of charge at the homes of women and men who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer (yes, men can get it, too). They began planting in the summer of 2007 and have installed two dozen gardens in Massachusetts (note that they are only planting gardens in MA, for now). Founded by Roberta Dehman Hershon, Hope in Bloom is based in Massachusetts, but plans to expand to other states in the future. From their website,

“Hope in Bloom gardens offer people a beautiful, tranquil place to sit, reflect and escape from the world of doctors, hospitals and sickness. We create life-affirming indoor or outdoor gardens (container, patio or in-ground) for any breast cancer patient undergoing treatment who requests one (the garden may be planted after treatment is over, but must be requested during treatment). All have symbols of life including color, texture, fragrance and sound incorporated into their design. Each garden is tailored to the recipient’s residential situation and lifestyle.”

Here’s a quote from one of their recipients:

“Thank you so much for my beautiful garden. What a transformation! After it was planted, I thought I would nap but instead found myself returning again and again to the garden with the energy of a puppy. That was a strange, magical, joyous feeling. After eight years of treatment, I am used to being tired and depleted. Today I have found myself swelling with a surge that I can only describe as hope.

I am tempted to wrap myself in a blanket and sleep in the hammock chair amidst the new plantings. Even at night I can see the blossoms. I am nourished by the beauty of the space, and by all of the caring everyone put into creating it. It’s the combination of the two that makes it a place of renewal and healing.

I’m here not just because of medical advances that knock down the cancer, but because of gifts such as the garden that give me a more profound strength.”

Hope in Bloom welcomes donations of funding, time (design, installation, and maintenance) and materials (plant material, pots, garden furniture).